Celebrating Church Construction in Scammon Bay

Samaritan's Purse volunteers built a church in Scammon Bay for this and future generations of native Alaskans.
A light October snow was falling softly on Scammon Bay, Alaska, as Pastor Jason Stromstadt landed with Samaritan's Purse staff and 400 pieces of fried chicken from Anchorage. Away for several weeks preaching in neighboring villages, Pastor Jason was returning home to a new season—both in weather and in ministry. "In November the real snow comes and it won't melt again until late spring," Jason said. The fried chicken was for a potluck, and the potluck was for a celebration. The festivities marked the completion and dedication of a new church building constructed by Samaritan's Purse over the course of the past several months. The old building of the Scammon Bay Covenant Church, the church's third in a century, had become drafty, hard to heat, and prone to accumulate inches of ice and snow inside during the harsh winter. The freezing and thawing of tundra had broken the seams of the building over time, creating cracks everywhere. So, scores of Samaritan's Purse volunteers were flown in this summer to provide the church with an additional building—one that should easily outlast the three existing structures. The new 5,000-square-foot facility includes worship space, dining and cooking space, and living quarters for the pastor. This state-of-the-art structure was built with thick foam insulation, double-paned windows, and high-end heating and ventilation systems. Now the church has indoor running water and plumbing, too. Of course the exterior was constructed to the highest specifications, all on a Triodetic foundation to endure the harshest winters and the ground shifting. 'Qyana.' Thank You. Situated on the edge of the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge where the Kun River meets the Bering Sea, there are no roads leading into or out of Scammon Bay—only barges, cargo ships, and airplanes can access the area. Most of the approximately 600 residents of Scammon Bay have lived there all their lives and "live by seasons," as they put it. In the summers they harvest and store varieties of tundra berries and they catch fish for drying. In fall and early winter they go hunting for moose or out in boats looking for seals. Scammon Bay Mayor John John Uttereuk, a longtime, faithful member of the church, said the new building could not have come at a better time—just in time for seal season and beginning of winter. "Somebody got a seal already," John John said, breaking up a conversation and pointing through one of the church's windows as a hunter with game sped by on a four-wheeler along the muddy road. "That's what I mean. We live by seasons. It's seal season right now. That's where I'll be going once I leave here." Similar to how this final hunt of the year points to the coming winter, John John says the new church marks the beginning of a new season in the life of his community. Even in the coldest times, the facility will help church members offer a warm and welcoming environment for members and visitors. "This is home. I'm proud to call Scammon Bay my community," he said. "I want to say thank you very much. 'Qyana.' That means thank you. It's more than words can ever express. I remember walking in here when it was still being framed. I remember imagining how it was going to be. How we will have a place for gatherings with the community and a place to fellowship and worship. It's a big deal. It's a very big deal. I feel more thanks than I could ever express, but I know there will be plenty of time in eternity to say thank you." John John said his hope is that God would work through the church to show others His plan for their lives, a hope echoed by Luther Harrison, vice president of North American Ministries at Samaritan's Purse. "We're honored to be here today. We want you to use this building to serve your community, to get out into the community outside these walls to meet your neighbors, get them involved in this church, and help understand what a relationship in Jesus Christ is all about," Luther said. "We'll be in prayer for you as you begin to use this building for God's Kingdom." In addition to the new construction, volunteers were able to assist with other repair and construction projects in the village over the summer. In September, for instance, teams helped some Scammon Bay residents make needed roof repairs after the remnants of a typhoon came ashore in western Alaska with hurricane-force winds and high storm surge. Please continue to pray for Scammon Bay and for other remote Alaskan villages where we work. Pray for the light of Christ to shine through our teams and local church leaders.
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